Not quite ready for Christmas yet? Neither are we.
So, to celebrate cousin Jan's birthday, we decided to drive away from all that red and green at the malls into the countryside in Sonoma and Napa, where the vines are still decked in fall colors of bronze, yellow and orange.
We had a lovely day for it, all blue skies and 70 degree temperatures, one of the great pleasures of late November in Northern California. The hills were brightly green after our recent rains, making the black and white cattle stand out in stark relief in their pastures. Heads down, they were enjoying the fresh grass, too.
We stopped for lunch at a new-to-us Italian restaurant in Napa, Bistro Don Giovanni. The menu was strongly Italian, with a hamburger being the only concession to American food, but we had read that this hamburger was really something special, so My Beloved was eager to try that. Jan had their fritto misto as her appetizer, of which we all had bites, and it was really delicious. The crisp, almost crunchy crust wasn't the least bit greasy and the calamari was tender and full of flavor. She decided on the burger, too, when she heard about its reputation.
We started with a glass of prosecco to toast our favorite cousin, always a favorite way to begin a celebratory lunch. It arrived just fizzing with bubbles, clearly freshly opened. If I have a pet peeve, it's when sparkling wine arrives with no sparkle, having lost its bubbles. This lovely, light wine was the opposite, lively and very slightly sweet.
Our waitress declared herself to be Italian, and backed it up with an accent that sang of Italy. She has lived in California for a long time but waxed lyrical when speaking about her homeland. All the wait staff were attentive and excellent - no clattering of dishes or reaching across us to pour water, and they neither rushed us nor made us wait. Good, unobtrusive but helpful service lends so much to a meal.
I started with a bowl of ribollita, a Tuscan specialty that combines beans, veggies and bread in a thick soup. It was delicious, but hardly an "appetizer" as I could have (and probably should have) stopped there.
But, I wanted to try the linguine with Dungeness crab while the crab is still in season, so I ordered that for my "Primi." It was lovely, full of crab and fresh tomatoes, and surprisingly spicy with red pepper. The portion was so generous that I'm having the rest for lunch today.
After lunch, we strolled around the fountain outdoors and walked a bit down the dirt road next door, admiring the vines and the kitchen garden that serves the restaurant. We drove back home through the vineyards, enjoying the sunshine, relishing the fall colors, and trying to stay awake after a hearty meal. If you aren't quite ready for Christmas yet, you can stretch out the fall by taking a trip up to Napa. If you happen to stop at Bistro Don Giovanni, I hope you have a favorite cousin with you.